Dharam Dev Pishorimal Anand — Dev Anand to the world — is the archetypal star. Generations of cinemagoers, especially female, have grown up on his signature nod, his sing-song dialogue delivery, the arched way he had of looking at his heroines. Today, at 85, he might not cut the same dashing figure, but he makes an arresting picture in his sunny yellow shirt, khaki jacket and tie-and-dye chunni round his neck.
As I walk into his hotel room, he stands up in courtesy, opening the interview with a few questions of his own — “how long have you been with HT, where are you from”, etc. Then, satisfied with the answers, he settles down for a chat. “l’m in Delhi for Chargesheet but I’ll not tell you about it,” he announces. “I thought I would shoot for two days with Amar Singh but I was so fast that I wrapped it up in less than a day,” he continues, flashing that smile that lit up B&W cinema.
“I’m launching three-four new people who I think will be big stars, beside myself, in it. I don’t mind casting newcomers because they are always at your beck and call. If you make a star out of them, then your film is already a hit.” So what keeps him going? “If your mind is strong, age keeps pace with it. If you’re a thinking, creative person doing work which the world is looking to pass a judgement on, it’s one hell of a feeling!” he says, dramatically flailing his arms. And where does he draw his strength? “I don’t hang on to my lows. Temperamentally, I pass on, I hop across. Life is beautiful in all its phases.”
But not poverty — no beauty there, says Dev.A. “Poverty is not good,” he says. “It’s a reality and to be able to get out of it is a challenge. If you photograph poverty, it looks good... but India is a poor country and if a poor man can live beautifully in less money, that’s beautiful.”
The man who has been in movies since 1946 isn’t done yet. “I read and travel a lot. I’m a man of the moment. I make films that are happening.” His voice drops several octaves that you strain to hear — “I’m a man who if he gets hung on a thought, starts working on it day in and out.” Then, suddenly, a dramatic boom. “I’m my own master. No one is dictating to me. If you can achieve a certain milestone in your career — free in mind and free in spirit — it’s the greatest thing,” his eyes twinkle and come alive for an instance, searching… You smile back, and perhaps break the spell.
But the man ahead of his times is not computer savvy. He still writes all his scripts with a pencil. Pointing to his
hardened finger, he says, “I even wrote my biography by hand. I’ve been told computers are useful, perhaps it’s too late to learn now…”
Not too late to teach. “The youngsters today can learn from us masters. To get a break in movies is still tough. To get a break and be able to SUSTAAAAINNNNN it, to prove to the world you’re there — that’s tough.” And what of romance? “Chasing something you want in a dedicated way, that’s romance, yes.”
His first love — actor Suraiya —thought he resembled Gregory Peck. Dev sahab admits to being influenced. “I was young, I was vulnerable, I looked for idols. When Peck came on screen, he was striking. The woman I loved was sold on his personality and so… (his voice drops shyly). I even met him but then you outgrow that once you establish your identity. Why should I follow anyone, I've got my own personality.”
He has his signature style too, one that he grew without thinking. “I must have woken up one day to realise people like me this way. I was a leading man at 20. I’m very modern. I had a good education…” And no, it isn’t a put-on. “The nod is a part of my personality. I speak fast because I think fast.”
Which is a lot to do at 85.